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Campus News in Brief

Associate professor chosen to serve Steering Committee

Alex London, associate professor of philosophy and acclaimed expert in bioethics, has been selected to serve on the International Commission on Missing Persons’ (ICMP) Steering Committee on Forensic Science Programs.

The ICMP works with governments to locate and identify people who have gone missing as a result of armed conflicts, other hostile situations, or violations of human rights. To date, the commission has helped to identify over 18,000 missing persons.

According to a university press release, the purpose of the Steering Committee is to “stay current with information on advanced methods and best practices.” To find missing persons, the IMCP relies heavily on forensic techniques combining DNA testing, archaeology, anthropology, and pathology.

London will be one of 11 experts, selected from the fields of forensic archaeology and anthropology, pathology, odontology, genetics, statistics, human identification, quality management, and bioethics, serving on the Steering Committee on Forensic Science Programs.

London is the director of the Center for Ethics and Policy. His research focuses on ethical issues in human-subjects research, issues of social justice, and methodological issues in theoretical and applied ethics. His most recent work looks at ways to improve risk vs. benefit estimates in human drug trials.

CMU researcher finds online privacy tools to be unusable

Carnegie Mellon researchers have found that internet privacy tools are not useful to the average person.

According to a Wall Street Journal technology blog, the study, coordinated by computer science professor Lorrie Faith Cranor, tested nine “opt-out” and “blocking” tools which allow internet users to disable advertising networks and block websites, respectively.

The nine tools, according to PCWorld, were each tested by five different participants, none of whom were technical experts. The study found the tools to be universally ineffective. “None of the nine tools we tested empowered study participants to effectively control tracking and behavioral advertising according to their personal preferences,” the researchers wrote in their study.

“On the usability front it is pretty bad news,” Cranor told the Wall Street Journal. “I was actually somewhat surprised about how difficult it was for everybody.”

PCWorld reported that the major issues that the study found with the tools were unclear instructions; inefficient default settings that placed the burden on users to figure out what privacy settings they wanted; a lack of information regarding the list of advertising networks which users could opt out of; and insufficient feedback to users.